Fox Hosts End Argument Claiming “No One” Said Obama Wasn’t A Legitimate President With Birther Jokes
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Right-Wing Fringe Falsely Accused CNN Of Doctoring Photo Of Shooting Suspect To Make Him Look More White
Daily Beast exposed how fake news purveyors pushed a race baiting alt-right conspiracy theory about accused Ft Lauderdale shooter, Esteban Santiago, which alleged that CNN doctored a photo of Santiago. In reality, CNN has not shown a picture of Santiago, and right-wing media outlets that ran with the racist conspiracy theory, namely Gateway Pundit, have had to repudiate their own false claims.
Santiago is accused of opening fire at the Fort Lauderdale airport on January 6, killing five people and injuring multiple others. Santiago was apprehended at the scene and is currently being interviewed to determine the motive of the shooting.
The Daily Beast detailed how “alt-right” fringe sites like InfoWars and Gateway Pundit falsely claimed CNN published a doctored photo of Santiago that made the person in the picture appear to be lighter in complexion “to make the suspect look more white.” The article noted that “in reality, CNN had yet to air a picture of Santiago, let alone lightened a picture of him.” Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft wrote up the story and linked to “alt-right Twitter accounts,” before being forced to admit the mistake and retracting the post:
Far rightwing figureheads immediately invented an elaborate and racist conspiracy theory that CNN had lightened a photo of alleged Fort Lauderdale airport shooter Esteban Santiago shortly after the Friday attack.
In reality, CNN had yet to air a picture of Santiago, let alone lightened a picture of him. The conspiracy also used a picture of an entirely different man named Esteban Santiago—not the alleged shooter.
Still, writers at websites like InfoWars and Gateway Pundit tweeted about CNN’s nonexistent Photoshop job. Former Republican Florida Congressman Allen West, who represented Fort Lauderdale itself, even tweeted about the conspiracy and linked to an article about it on his own website.
Alt-right Twitter accounts appear to have helped create the confusion. After media personality Tariq Nasheed tweeted, “there are reports that the identity of one of the Ft. Lauderdale shooting suspects is a white Hispanic named Esteban Santiago,” verified alt-right Twitter user @BakedAlaska tweeted a screenshot of Nasheed’s tweet, along with a picture of the wrong Santiago.
Hoft’s story links to a tweet by the user @alphakangz, whose account has only existed since November.
“UNDOCTORED PHOTO vs. photo @CNN USED PHOTO of Esteban Santiago, the alleged FLL airport shooter #FortLauderdale pray for the victims,” the account tweeted.
Minutes later, a copy of the lightened photo of the 39-year-old Santiago, falsely claiming CNN attribution, appeared on Watson’s Twitter feed.
Update 6:31 p.m.: Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft emailed The Daily Beast about an hour after this story's initial publication.
"I pulled the post," he said.
"UPDATE — THIS MAY BE A DIFFERENT ESTEBAN SANTIAGO," the story now reads.
The Daily Beast reached out to both Watson for comment. His tweet is still visible on his account.
The ecosystem of fake news and the alt-right, dubbed the ‘Misinformer of the Year,’ continues to evolve and expand. Media Matters has created a glossary to help understand what fake news is and the ecosystem underpinning the phenomenon. Episodes like Pizzagate show how social media platforms like Facebook help to empower total lies, and conservative media outlets like Gateway Pundit help to mainstream these lies.
In her past role at Fox News, new NBC News hire Megyn Kelly has invited onto her show a number of extremists and hate group leaders who spread and espouse anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant views, statements, and lies. Will she continue her practice of hosting bigotry in her upcoming daytime news and Sunday evening programs?
Conservatives are baselessly blaming the Black Lives Matter movement after a white man was kidnapped and attacked in Chicago. Four black people were arrested on January 4 after a Facebook Live video surfaced of a young white man with special needs being tied up, assaulted, and threatened. In the video, one of the assailants said, “Fuck Donald Trump, fuck white people.”
Chicago police have filed hate crime and battery charges against the four suspects.
Several conservatives and “alt-right” figures blamed the attack on the Black Lives Matter movement and used the social media hashtag #BLMKidnapping in discussions about the event. Yet the video does not reference Black Lives Matter and thus far, no connection between the assailants and Black Lives Matter has been established. CNN reported “police said they have not been able to make any connection to the Black Lives Matter activist group, contrary to some reports circulating on social media.”
Paul Joseph Watson, editor-at-large for conspiracy theorist and Donald Trump ally Alex Jones’ website Infowars, was among the first to tie the attack to Black Lives Matter, with a Twitter post instructing others, “#BLMKidnapping is the hashtag to get this story trending.” Watson’s own write-up of the story on Infowars, which he linked to in his tweet, makes no mention of Black Lives Matter or a connection between the attack and the movement.
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) January 5, 2017
Watson later described the victim of the attack as “the BLM torture victim” on Twitter.
Rape apologist and “alt-right” figure Mike Cernovich wrote, “#BlackLivesMatter activists in custody after filming kidnapping video,” then used Watson’s hashtag to write, “#BLMKidnapping suspects are in custody.” He also described one of the suspects as a “#BLMKidnapping ring leader.” On his blog, Cernovich made the same assertion, without evidence to back it up.
— Mike Cernovich ???? (@Cernovich) January 4, 2017
Lee Stranahan, a Breitbart contributor, questioned Cernovich’s assertions, particularly his claim that the attackers were Black Lives Matters supporters. Stranahan also pointed out that mainstream media reports on the attack had not mentioned Cernovich’s claims.
Hey Mike - is there backup from claims of 1) attackers BLM supporters 2) victim drinking toilet water 3) victim voted for Trump @Cernovich
— Lee Stranahan (@stranahan) January 5, 2017
I haven't watched the whole 30 minute video, but not seeing those claims elsewhere in any MSM @Cernovich
— Lee Stranahan (@stranahan) January 5, 2017
In contrast to Stranahan, fellow Breitbart contributor Katie McHugh referenced “the victim of the Chicago #BLMkidnapping.”
Fake news promoter and “alt-right” figure Jack Posobiec recorded a Periscope video about the attack with the #BLMKidnapping hashtag and claimed that the attackers were “members of Black Lives Matter in Chicago.”
Trump supporter Bill Mitchell described the attack as a “#BLM atrocity” that “proves that given enough time, evil always shows its true nature.”
This #BLM atrocity proves that given enough time, evil always shows its true nature.
— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) January 5, 2017
Michael Flynn Jr., son of incoming Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, also labeled the event with the #BLMKidnapping in several tweets. Flynn was removed from the presidential transition team after it was reported that he helped to spread several fake news stories and conspiracy theories.
— Michael Flynn Jr???? (@mflynnJR) January 5, 2017
— Michael Flynn Jr???? (@mflynnJR) January 5, 2017
Gavin McInnes, who has a history of making racist commentary, also used the hashtag.
— Gavin McInnes (@Gavin_McInnes) January 5, 2017
Conservative Steven Crowder wrote, “#BLMKidnapping and the media's reaction is proof positive that the left doesn't care about racism.”
#BLMKidnapping and the media's reaction is proof positive that the left doesn't care about racism. Only when it's a political tool.
— Steven Crowder (@scrowder) January 5, 2017
Conservatives have frequently, without evidence, blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for violence. Radio host Rush Limbaugh called them “a terrorist group committing hate crimes,” while frequent Fox News guest David Clarke called them a “subversive movement” attempting to “overthrow” the government. Fox host Sean Hannity compared Black Lives Matter to the Ku Klux Klan, Bill O’Reilly compared them to Nazis, and a Fox News graphic described it as a “murder movement.”
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Fox Will Now Feature Watters' Poor-Shaming, Sexism, And Transphobia For An Hour Every Week
Fox News has announced that news correspondent Jesse Watters' monthly special Watters' World will now be a weekly show on the network. Watters has a track record of producing segments where he shames homeless Americans and mocks members of the LGBT community. During his segment and while guest-hosting shows on Fox, Watters has also repeatedly made disparaging comments about immigrants, women, Asian-Americans and African-Americans.
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The President-Elect’s Media Allies Are Already Helping Him Control Narratives And Publicly Attack Enemies
After the 2016 presidential election, President-elect Donald Trump is coalescing a network of supportive right-wing media outlets, including an online publication owned by his son-in-law, a supermarket tabloid, and a new 24-hour news outlet that has been described as “Trump TV.” Since the primaries, these right-wing media outlets have helped push Trump's agenda and have attacked his political opponents.
With National Media Undercovering These Stories, It's Just A Matter Of Time Until It Happens To Another Community
In 2016, major environmental crises that disproportionately affect people of color -- such as the Flint water crisis and the fight over the location of the Dakota Access Pipeline -- were undercovered by the national media for long periods, despite being reported by local and state media early on. The national media’s failure to spotlight these environmental issues as they arise effectively shuts the people in danger out of the national conversation, resulting in delayed political action and worsening conditions.
In early 2016, Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in the majority black city of Flint over the dangerous levels of lead in the drinking water -- more than a year after concerns about the water were initially raised. While some local and state media aggressively covered the story from the beginning, national media outlets were almost universally late to the story, and even when their coverage picked up, it was often relegated to a subplot of the presidential campaign. One notable exception was MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who provided far more Flint coverage prior to Snyder's state of emergency declaration than every other network combined. Flint resident Connor Coyne explained that when national media did cover the story, they failed to provide the full context of the tragedy by ignoring the many elements that triggered it. In particular, national outlets did not highlight the role of state-appointed “emergency managers” who made arbitrary decisions based on budgetary concerns, including the catastrophic decision to draw Flint’s water from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron (via the Detroit water system).
This crisis, despite media’s waning attention, continues to affect Flint residents every day, meaning serious hardships for a population that's more than 50 percent black, with 40.1 percent living under the poverty line. Additionally, according to media reports, approximately 1,000 undocumented immigrants continued to drink poisoned water for considerably longer time than the rest of the population due in part to a lack of information about the crisis available in their language. Even after news broke, a lack of proper identification barred them from getting adequate filtration systems or bottled water.
At Standing Rock, ND, like in Flint, an ongoing environmental crisis failed to get media attention until it began to escalate beyond the people of color it disproportionately affected. Since June, Native water protectors and their allies have protested against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), an oil pipeline which would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation’s primary water source. Several tribes came together to demand that the pipeline be rejected, as it had been when the (mostly white) residents of Bismarck, ND, raised similar concerns. The tribes’ calls for another route option for the pipeline went “criminally undercovered” by the national press until September, when security forces and protesters started clashing violently. CNN’s Brian Stelter wondered whether election coverage had crowded out stories about Standing Rock, saying, “It received sort of on-and-off attention from the national media,” and, oftentimes, coverage “seemed to fall off the national news media’s radar.” Coverage of this story was mostly driven by the social media accounts of activists on the ground, online outlets, and public media, while cable news networks combined spent less than an hour in the week between October 26 and November 3 covering the escalating violence of law enforcement against the demonstrators. Amy Goodman, a veteran journalist who consistently covered the events at Standing Rock, even at the risk of going to prison, told Al Jazeera that the lack of coverage of the issues at Standing Rock went “in lockstep with a lack of coverage of climate change. Add to it a group of people who are marginalised by the corporate media, native Americans, and you have a combination that vanishes them.”
The reality reflected by these stories is that people of color are often disproportionately affected by environmental hazards, and their stories are often disproportionately ignored.
In a future in which the Environmental Protection Agency could be led by Scott Pruitt -- a denier of climate science who has opposed efforts to reduce air and water pollution and combat climate change -- these disparities will only get worse. More so than ever, media have a responsibility to prioritize coverage of climate crises and amplify the voices of those affected the most, which hasn't happened in the past.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has reported that more than three-quarters of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. African-Americans are also particularly at risk from climate impacts like rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths, and the black community is three times more likely than whites to die from asthma-related causes. Similarly, Latinos are 60 percent more likely than whites to go to the hospital for asthma and 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than white people. New Hispanic immigrants are particularly "vulnerable to changes in climate" due to "low wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing," all of which are "critical obstacles to managing climate risk."
Leading environmental justice scholar Robert D. Bullard has found that “government is disproportionately slower to respond to disasters when communities of color are involved.” But media have the power to pressure governments into action with investigative journalism. According to a Poynter analysis on media’s failure to cover Flint, “a well-placed FOIA,” a “well-trained reporter covering local health or the environment,” or “an aggressive news organization” that could have “invested in independent water testing” could have been decisive in forcing authorities to act much sooner. Providing incomplete, late, and inconsistent coverage of environmental crises of this type, which disproportionately harm people of color, has real life consequences. And as Aura Bogado -- who covers justice for Grist -- told Media Matters, the self-reflection media must undertake is not limited to their coverage decisions; the diversity of their newsrooms may be a factor as well:
“When it comes to reporting on environmental crises, which disproportionately burden people of color, we’re somehow supposed to rely on all-white (or nearly all-white) newsrooms to report stories about communities they know very little about. That doesn’t mean that white reporters can’t properly write stories about people of color – but it’s rare.”
Media have many opportunities -- and the obligation -- to correct course. Media have a role to play in identifying at-risk communities, launching early reporting on environmental challenges that affect these communities, and holding local authorities accountable before crises reach Flint’s or Standing Rock’s magnitude.
While the dangers in Flint and Standing Rock eventually became major stories this year, they were not the only ones worthy of attention, and there are other environmental crises hurting communities of color that still need the support of media to amplify a harsh reality. Media could apply the lessons left by scant coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline and Flint to empower these communities and bring attention to the many other ongoing situations of disproportionate impact that desperately need attention -- and change. As Bullard suggests, every instance of environmental injustice is unique, but media coverage should be driven by the question of “how to provide equal protection to disenfranchised communities and make sure their voices are heard.”
Illustration by Dayanita Ramesh
In 2016, right-wing media’s use of racially charged and bigoted statements hit new lows, featuring widely condemned segments reliant on racial caricatures, bigoted attempts to blame progressives for the actions of white nationalists, and slurs directed against other media figures. Here are the most bigoted stories and statements from right-wing media figures over the last year:
With hate crimes against Muslims on the rise and an administration that frequently makes anti-Muslim statements on its way in, cable news shows must work harder to include Muslim experts, advocates, and community leaders in order to provide a good reflection of the diversity and authenticity of American Muslim experiences.
According to FBI statistics, anti-Muslim hate crimes have been on the rise for several years, shooting up 67 percent between 2014 and 2015 “from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015,” their highest since the year of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Though FBI hate crime statistics for 2016 won’t be released until the end of 2017, according to a joint study by CAIR and ThinkProgress, there have been 111 reported anti-Muslim incidents in America since the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris, 53 of them in the month of December 2015 alone.
Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, which tracked the connection between political rhetoric and anti-Muslim attacks during the the presidential campaign season, found that there have been approximately 180 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence in the one year period after the first candidate announced his bid for the White House in March 2015. And since Trump’s election less than two months ago, there have been at least 150 reported hate incidents, 29 of which were inspired by anti-Muslim sentiment, according to a ThinkProgress analysis that “focuses on moments of more targeted harassment and hatred.”
Despite the undeniable upward trend of violence against American Muslims, right-wing media have consistently dismissed this trend and cast doubt on the discrimination American Muslims face. On December 7, 2015, the same day Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Fox’s The Five co-hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle and Jesse Watters used the opportunity to criticize the Obama administration's call for tolerance toward Muslims by denying the existence of discrimination against people of that faith. Watters asserted, "Let me know if you see any Muslim backlash, I haven't seen a lot of it," with Guilfoyle adding, "I mean, who's vilifying any of the Muslims. Who's doing that?" The next day, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed, “Muslim hate crimes [are] not as big an issue as the White House would make you to believe,” and The O’Reilly Factor host Bill O’Reilly asserted, “there really isn't any evidence that Muslims are being mistreated in the USA.”
Of course, none of these Fox figures are Muslim, and neither of these segments featured Muslim guests. Their coverage is indicative of a larger problem: When cable news shows fail to invite Muslims to speak about their concerns, misinformed attacks are left unchecked and unchallenged and are repeated until viewers simply accept them as fact.
The Pulse Nightclub Shooting
The day after 49 people were killed at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, despite major print and online news stories about the outpouring of Muslim support for the shooting victims, positive portrayals of Muslims on cable news shows were almost non-existent. A Media Matters study of what voices were heard on cable news the day after the Orlando shooting found only 5 percent of guests on Fox News and MSNBC were Muslim, as well as only 7 percent of guests on CNN. What’s more, the three Muslim guests featured on Fox News did not adequately represent the Muslim American population; Maajid Nawaz is identified by Fox as a “former Islamic extremist,” Zuhdi Jasser has been described by the Council On American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as “the de facto Muslim for anti-Muslim political leaders,” and Qanta Ahmed has warned that “it’s time for the United States, western democracies, Britain, France, to admit that we are under siege by an ideology called Islamism.”
Three days later, Fox’s Megyn Kelly invited anti-Muslim hate group leader Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT! For America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America,” onto her show to discuss the shooting. Fox’s post-Orlando coverage followed a familiar pattern of stereotyping, fear-mongering, and misplaced blame. Other Fox guests and contributors exploited the attack in order to call for mosque surveillance and a new version of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Fox isn’t the only network that needs to improve inclusion of Muslim voices in important dialogues. On MSNBC, Maajid Nawaz, who was identified as a “former Islamist revolutionary member,” accounted for two out of four Muslim guest appearances. (He was also the same guest featured on Fox.) CNN featured the most diverse and numerous array of Muslim guests, but still only comprised 7 percent of guests on CNN that day.
Trump’s Attacks On A Gold Star Family
Another recent example of a major news story that impacted the Muslim community but didn’t ask them how was Trump’s attacks on a Muslim Gold Star family. On July 31, Gold Star mother Ghazala Khan penned an op-ed for The Washington Post debunking Trump’s July 30 claim that “maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say” about her son Humayun, an Army captain who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq. Trump’s attack, which played on the stereotype that Muslim women are expected to be subservient to their husbands, garnered sustained national attention, but on the morning shows of two major cable news networks, MSNBC and Fox, Muslim guests were barely featured. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, of 13 guests to discuss Trump’s attacks on the Khan family, only two were Muslim, the Khans themselves. On Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends, which covered the story significantly less, only one of three guests invited to discuss the Khan story was Muslim, and the one Muslim guest was Jasser. CNN’s coverage of the attacks on the Khan family was markedly more representative of Muslims. Out of 17 guests invited onto its morning show New Day, eight (including Khizr and Ghazala Khan) were Muslim. While this is a major improvement over MSNBC’s and Fox’s coverage of the story, only one guest other than Ghazala Khan was a female Muslim, despite the sexist nature of Trump’s anti-Muslim attack.
Post-Election Media Environment
Politicians engaging in anti-Islam rhetoric picked up in 2015, but no presidential candidate weaponized that brand of hate to the degree Donald Trump has. Throughout the course of his campaign, Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, said he would implement a registry and tracking system of American Muslims, and claimed that “Islam hates us.” Despite the unusual level of anti-Muslim sentiment coming from the president-elect, in the month following Trump’s election only 21 percent of evening cable news segments on issues affecting Muslims or, more specifically, segments on his anti-Muslim policy proposals and cabinet picks featured Muslim guests. Muslims are understandably outraged about Trump’s cabinet picks, and while discussion of those picks has dominated cable news shows during the transition, we aren’t hearing from Muslims on the primetime news shows.
Why This Matters
Media representation of Muslims has measurable effects on Americans’ views of Muslims and Islam. A December 2015 University of Michigan experimental study on exposure to Muslims in media found that “exposing participants to negative Muslim media footage, relative to neutral or no-video footage, increased perceptions of Muslims as aggressive, increased support for harsh civil restrictions of American Muslims, and increased support for military action in Muslim countries.” Fortunately, the opposite is also true -- media representations of Muslims in a positive context can produce the opposite effect. Moreover, the majority of Americans that personally know Muslims hold favorable views of them, a finding that holds across the political spectrum. But only 38 percent of Americans say that they know someone who is Muslim. Taken together, these findings make the case for increased representation of Muslims in news media -- since most Americans have limited interactions with Muslims, it’s incumbent that media help to get their perspectives across authentically.
Unfortunately,TV news has done an abysmal job of this. A 2007-2013 study on Muslims in the media found that primetime TV news coverage of Muslims has gotten increasingly worse -- in 2013, over 80 percent of media portrayals of Muslims in U.S. broadcast news shows were negative. This kind of coverage has lasting impacts on attitudes about Muslims. Fifty-five percent of Americans hold either a somewhat or very unfavorable view of Islam, and over half of Americans believe that Muslim immigrants increase the risk of terror attacks in the United States.
Despite the false but persistent narrative of Muslims as violent aggressors, American Muslims face more discrimination than nearly every other demographic in the United States, and it dominates their day-to-day existence. A 2011 Pew study with Muslim American participants (the most recent to date) found that the six biggest problems facing Muslims in the United States were negative views of their community, discrimination, ignorance about their religion, cultural problems between Muslims and non-Muslims, negative media portrayals, and acceptance by society. Given this reality, it is even more important that American Muslims are invited into the national news media to inform non-Muslims and raise awareness about issues faced by members of the United States’ estimated 3.3 million Muslim population.
In the face of what has been called a “post-truth presidency,” being informed is more important than ever. That starts with representing the diverse demographics, perspectives, and opinions of Americans fairly and authentically. In 2016, TV news media viewers saw glimpses of media outlets’ understanding of the need to represent Muslims. Next year, these cable news producers need to constantly be asking themselves: Who does this story affect? What can we ask them? How can we learn from them? Asking Muslims, “What is life like in Trump’s America?” is a good place to start.
For coverage of the Khan family story, Media Matters used iQ media to review the August 1, 2016, editions of morning news shows on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News -- CNN’s New Day, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and Fox News’ Fox & Friends -- between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. for segments and panel discussions dedicated to the Khan story. We excluded network hosts and reporters in our count of show guests. For coverage of the Pulse nightclub shooting, segments featuring Muslim guests were reviewed in iQ media to determine their identity. For post-election cable news coverage of issues affecting American Muslims, Media Matters used Nexis to search for mentions of “Islam," “Muslim,” “Middle East,” and “registry” in show editions of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News from the hours of 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. aired between November 14 and December 14, 2016. Fox News’ The Five, a primarily panel-based show which rarely has guests, was excluded. Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect, which airs on MSNBC, was also excluded because transcripts are not available in Nexis.
Segments included are defined by either a panel discussion or an interview where the stated topic of the segment is Islam, Muslims in the United States, or policies and/or presidential cabinet appointments affecting Muslims. We identified a guest’s religion by one or more of the following details: the host’s spoken introduction, onscreen text or graphics produced by the network, self-identification, or consultation of publicly available online biographies.
In the small world of politics and media Twitter, one of a few tropes emerged this year: astonishment -- isolated and seemingly brand-new each time -- when woman-centered outlets published high-quality political reporting and opinion pieces.
When Teen Vogue ran a December 10 op-ed from weekend editor Lauren Duca headlined “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,” this small, homogenous media world seemed shocked that a young woman could aptly write about both makeup and the psychological tactics of a dangerously deceptive political figure. It was as though young women and the stories they crave, or the whole of American life for that matter, cannot contain multitudes.
As many women writers -- and especially women of color -- quickly pointed out, the Teen Vogue piece shouldn’t surprise anyone. Neither should it be shocking that, in September, Cosmopolitan set the standard for Ivanka Trump interviews when reporter Prachi Gupta asked Ivanka, who ostensibly spearheaded Donald Trump’s child care proposal, substantive questions about that policy and in the process revealed its many weaknesses. The “real” media figures who were surprised by the Teen Vogue opinion piece also might not have known that President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have given multiple exclusive interviews to Essence, Ebony, Latina, and Teen Vogue over the years.
What (mostly male) critics fail to recognize is that their reasons for dismissing women’s magazines actually form the foundation of those publications’ success. Magazines created by and for women audiences -- not to mention exclusively online outlets like Broadly, Refinery 29, The Establishment, and Jezebel -- inherently do things differently, and that’s their strength. They’re helmed by people who wouldn’t normally see their experiences depicted on the pages of papers of record. They’re also answering to an audience of women, especially young women and women of color, by finding ways to inject otherwise untold perspectives into the political discourse.
This emphasis on giving platforms to those commonly excluded by dominant media narratives explains why Teen Vogue -- run by Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth, a millennial black woman, and digital editorial director Phillip Picardi, a 25-year-old gay man -- produces consistently dynamic reporting on the realities of the white supremacist and misogynist movement that calls itself the “alt-right.” It also explains why it reaches millions with personal stories of transgender teens affected by North Carolina’s discriminatory HB 2 law, a young woman who got an abortion in Ohio, girls from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, and young female Muslim activists. (Teen Vogue also owes much to Rookie magazine, founded and edited by the 20-year-old Tavi Gevinson, which regularly publishes political stories focused on personal narrative, and earlier this year ran an exclusive reader Q&A with Hillary Clinton.)
It explains why Latina magazine’s politics and culture editor, Raquel Reichard, has curated a strikingly personal collection of first-hand, narrative-driven accounts explaining how this year’s threats to abortion rights uniquely harm Latina communities.
Essence and Ebony have been doing this work for decades, no doubt serving as critical models for the more recently developed political voices of traditionally whiter magazines like Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire. In the weeks since Trump’s election, Essence has consistently called out his cabinet picks for their connections to the racist “alt-right” movement and their histories of racist remarks. An Ebony opinion piece labeled the “alt-right” “white supremacy by any other name” and examined what Trump has said -- or refused to say -- about racial intimidation.
Essence has also challenged mainstream praise of female conservative media figures who have benefited from white feminism, describing right-wing pundit Tomi Lahren as a “white supremacist fave” and warning of the media’s uncritical embrace of “repugnant and unapologetic racists” like Lahren and Fox’s Megyn Kelly, who the magazine says are “dangerous for black women.” What’s more, women’s magazine writers are not afraid to correctly identify rape culture, white supremacy, or outright lies when they see them. And Elle unequivocally stated that Ivanka Trump, who has been touted as the champion of women in her father’s administration, “will not fix ‘women’s issues’” and called out her “exceptionalist white womanhood.”
In a year when women have been repeatedly attacked through legislation, on social media, and even by the president-elect of the United States, Cosmopolitan was unafraid to call the Twitter harassment of black actress Leslie Jones -- organized by bigoted, misogynist Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos -- a hate crime. Gupta’s October take-down of Donald Trump’s history of sexual harassment concluded, “Trump doesn’t seem to understand what harassment is or how it works.”
This is the essential difference between women’s magazines and what are seen as more traditional outlets for political reporting: Women’s magazines are designed to speak -- directly and above all -- to women, particularly young women and women of color.
As a collective group that frequently feels the impact of new state and federal policies before others and in highly magnified form, these women are craving the truth about how such policies come to be. And by and large, they aren’t finding it in mainstream political press outlets largely helmed by and written for white men, who forcibly construct a “both sides” argument where often one, frankly, does not exist.
The success of women’s magazines underscores the fact that newsroom diversity -- in its most intersectional meaning -- is, in the words of CNN’s Tanzina Vega, “imperative to make sure your coverage is better, more nuanced and more accurate.” As Washington Post deputy general assignment editor Swati Sharma explained recently for Neiman Journalism Lab:
A new administration is at foot, and with it nascent movements are growing across the country. How will those sentiments be accurately covered with empathy, nuance, and authenticity? We need people in those communities to capture the messages, the angst, the people who make up the groups.
As we prepare for a new presidential administration that promises to be infinitely more hostile to both members of the press and the women who make up these magazines’ newsrooms and audience, the media figures who have expressed shock over high-quality political reporting by such publications might consider instead turning to them for a lesson in telling the full story.
Graphic created by Dayanita Ramesh.
2016 was a red letter year for xenophobia and misinformation. From smears about Muslims to hostility over LGBT rights, media have had to push back against a torrent of lies and distortion. Here are 12 times the media rebuffed right-wing lies and deceit.